Buying an Investment Property in Northern Virginia

The Washington Posts’ Express paper had a special Home Buyer’s Guide this past Wednesday, and I was honored to be asked for my thoughts on buying investment properties.

During my conversation with the author, I noted that prices inside the Beltway–areas that are optimal for finding renters–have not dropped to the extent people may think, and thus finding an investment property that is cash flow positive is difficult. Having said that, it’s not impossible to find a good property with long term potential, and if you’re looking out side the Beltway, there are deals to be had in terms of price (though finding renters may be more difficult than with close-in areas). The challenge right now is in obtaining financing, as I and Will Gaines, of Access National Mortgage, noted here.

» DOUBLE DOWN: Expect to break the piggy bank open — wide open. “You usually need a minimum of 15 percent down for an investment property, and, ideally, for good pricing, it should be 20 percent,” says Will Gaines, senior loan officer with Access National Mortgage in Reston, Va. “To get your very most competitive pricing, you really need to have 30 percent to put down.”

» DOUBLE TROUBLE:
Don’t blame the banks for tighter restrictions. “The private mortgage insurers got burned so, so bad in the past few years, and they’re reluctant to provide insurance,” warns Katie Wethman of Long & Foster. She says they’re especially wary of insuring rental properties because “if a borrower falls on hard times, they’re more likely to skip a payment on an investment property than one they live in.” That said, she advises borrowers to come up with a big chunk of cold, hard cash to sweeten the deal; the less credit you need, the more likely you are to get the loan you want.

» DOUBLE UP: Count on your friends. “I see more younger people going in together to buy investment properties,” Gaines says. “That way, they can share the down payment and spread out the risk if they’re without a renter for a period of time.” Be sure to have a game plan for buying each other out in case one of you is ready to cry “Uncle!” before the other.

If you have the cash for a larger down payment, and the patience to ride out the downturn, there are investment opportunities out there. In particular, being flexible on timing and having a bit of cash for repairs makes short sales and foreclosures more of an opportunity for investors (versus someone who has to move before their lease is up: read more on my foreclosure risk post on timing a transaction.)

What else do you need to consider when searching for an investment property? Long term demographic trends, price to rent ratios, competing inventory (i.e., apartments), cash flow, and a host of other factors. If you’re considering an investment property and need an advisor for your transaction, contact me to set up a meeting.

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